By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
When you mention the word love to a cowboy, it immediately conjures up thoughts around the emotion. A cowboy who starts seeing a girl he’s infatuated with quickly starts missing rodeos or events and the guys either make fun or genuinely complain that she’s messed him up and ruined the sport for him.
A cowboy in love starts to make dumb choices, or at least that’s how his friends see it.
For others, it’s an emotion they have a hard time expressing and even saying the words take effort despite the feelings of love that are there.
This is some of why understanding what love is in Scripture is so important.
The cowboy crowd is going to struggle with being asked to love others when their sense of what love is gets tied into warm, gushy emotions that go against the image of a tough cowboy.
While there are examples of couples in the Bible who are in warm, gushy love with each other, the Bible most often refers to love with the Greek word, ‘agape’, which is not an emotion but an action, or philia, which is a brotherly love.
When we understand both, we can see how the cowboy crowd should actually be able to relate well to each of them.
Romans 12:10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.
A loving, devoted husband or wife is likely what first comes to mind when reading that verse on its own but what Paul is describing in Romans is philia. He is telling us to look out for one another in that brotherly love kind of way but with a commitment to doing that. He wants us to be purposeful about it.
Philia is a brotherly love—exactly what you see in a group of bull riders who have traveled down the road together for years. They would do anything for each other, tease each other endlessly because they know each other so well and have each other’s backs. Ultimately, in brotherly love, we put others before ourselves which also leads into what agape is.
Agape is even more active and has a lot to do with how we treat others and how we demonstrate it to God.
John 13:35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
The love we’re being asked to show here is not an emotion but an action. We learn what those actions should be throughout scripture through the examples Jesus gave us and through the teachings throughout the Bible. Jesus says we will know who true followers of him are because people will see actions that show that they really do love others.
Asking how you can pray for a family who brought their kid up to get an autograph. Giving your last $20 to the Salvation Army Kettle because you know that at least your rent is paid. All of these can be acts of love. They can mean giving up some of your time or money, but that doesn’t compromising the image of strength and toughness a cowboy wants to hold on to. It takes a strong person to sacrifice for others.
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
There’s that guy that’s banned from four different rodeo associations ranging from not paying fines from his behavior in the arena to punching a contestant. He’s finished a weekend in jail for that but is remanded in custody for skipping a court appearance over unpaid child support. He changes his social media profile pictures to one a girlfriend took of him praying during the opening and always reshares the posts about God needing to be back in school or asks you to pray for him because he knows his life is a mess.
From the Christian perspective he’s one of two things: a Christian in need of grace or a soul destined for hell in need of a grace and Jesus.The fruit in his life, the words and actions that demonstrate that our life has been changed by a real relationship with Jesus, are missing.
Despite people who will misinterpret scripture and scold, “judge not lest ye be judged,” it’s not unreasonable to question which of the two he is. In fact, it’s important, because he may not understand the gospel and need to hear that more than words of encouragement or criticism.
He may need grace to save him or he may need grace to move forward.
Grace is here through our saving faith in Jesus. We know God to be God of love, but His wrath is still there for our sins if we don’t receive the forgiveness found through Jesus. That comes from believing Jesus was the Son of God who died to take the punishment meant for our sins and that he rose again to ascend to Heaven where he still is today. Then we recognize our sins separate us from God and deserve to be punished but that by confessing our sin, repenting and asking to be forgiven, we receive God’s mercy and grace and are given eternal life in Heaven. Grace is there when we’re saved from God’s wrath and it continues to be there when we mess up.
When we’re saved, we’re changed and we start to become more like Jesus. But we’re not Jesus and we’re going to screw it up sometimes.
Grace is not there so we can live how we want.
Romans 6:15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!
Grace NEVER runs out no matter how many mistakes we make, but if our life continually reflects sin to others and never a genuine faith in Jesus then we probably need Jesus first so we can be saved and begin turning away from our sin.
Are you in need of a saving faith in Jesus in the first place or are you in need of grace so you can pick yourself up, fix what needs to be fixed and move forward regardless of what anyone thinks of you and the mistakes you just made? It’s one or the other.
Part 3 on FORGIVENESS
By Jesse Horton / Cowboys of the Cross
If you’ve been a bull rider for very long at all, you’ll have at least one story about how a bull fighter saved your butt.
Most of us North Carolina riders know that Nathaniel Southern has one arm that’s inches longer than the other because many of us dogpiled a bull for him on a few different occasions so we could untie him. I was bad for hang-ups, but not quite that bad. One night I was on a Clint Haas bull he called 8-Ball. Around six seconds, he was spinning away from my hand; he got a little empty and I got a little stiff and wound up sliding off in the well before the eight seconds. I was able to wrap my free arm around his neck and dance with him until my riding hand was free, but he knocked me down as I tried to step out of the spin. Once I was on the ground, he put his head down on me and went to his knees to increase the amount of weight he could push me with. He pushed against the side of my head so hard my vision went dark. Justin Branch was a bull fighter that night. He leaned on 8-Ball’s head but ended up having to wrap himself around the bull’s neck to get him off me. I was thankful for Justin that night. He saved me from a bull who truly intended to harm me!
In the “Christian-ese” language, we use words that outsiders might not understand. What does it mean for a Christian to be saved? For most, it means we’ve got fire insurance – we are saved from eternity in hell and from God’s just wrath against our sin. To be “saved” we must be forgiven of our sin. But what does that require? How do we receive it? What is the value of forgiveness? To understand that, we must first understand the value of a soul.
In the Gospel of Jesus according to Mark (the book of Mark in your Bible), immediately after Peter has confessed that Jesus is the Christ, Jesus tells his disciples of his impending rejection by Jewish leaders, death at their hands, and his victorious resurrection. Peter responds by calling out Jesus for what he perceived as foolishness. Peter couldn’t imagine that the mission of the Messiah of Israel was to die. Then comes this passage:
34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34-38, ESV)
In verses 36-37, Jesus makes it clear that our immaterial souls are valuable. The reason our souls are valuable is because that is the part that God himself breathed into us which gives us life (Genesis 2:7). It is that immaterial part of us that is God’s image – the imprint of his Spirit on us. We are valuable to God because we are made in his image (Genesis 1:27; Genesis 9:6).
Not only are our souls valuable to God, but we are supremely more valuable than anything else we could ever possess. From an accounting perspective, Jesus goes straight for the bottom line in these verses. Take your assets, subtract your liabilities, and that’s the net value. Jesus says if the entire world and all it can offer are your assets and your soul is a liability (or the payment), your value is negative. He tells us there is nothing we offer in exchange for our eternal, supremely valuable souls.
Imagine if everyone in the U.S. decided collectively to sell our country. What would the price tag be? Well, in the first quarter of 2014, the net value of the U.S. was $128 trillion. No one person could ever possibly pay that price, and even if someone could do that, they couldn’t keep it. Someone with bigger guns or more nukes would rise up to take it away. In fact, we don’t really own anything the way we do our eternal souls. That beautiful home you recently built…someone else will be living there sooner or later. That brand new dually you bought…eventually you’ll trade it for a newer model, and someone else will drive it. Not to mention the fact that we all die eventually, and I’ve never seen a hearse with a U-Haul in tow.
I want you to notice that first verse (Mark 8:34) tells us that this is directed at both the crowd and the disciples; this is not teaching for only the most dedicated followers of Jesus – it’s for all of us who desire to follow Him. In fact, that might be a better translation of Jesus’ first words, “If anyone desires to come after Me…” Coming after Jesus represents following Him in a physical sense; as far as location goes, you’re following Jesus. But then He says, “…let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Follow me here indicates following in a behavioral sense, or obedience. Paraphrasing, “If you want to walk with Me, the life you live will be one where I am the leader and you obey Me.”
Jesus is demanding a great deal from us here. He isn’t saying we should die for Him; that might be easier – at least it would be over and done! He’s saying we should live as though we were dead to our own desires and be as obedient to Him as He was to the Roman soldier who likely told Him after his scourging, “Take up your cross and follow me!”
Yes! The cost of forgiveness – of being saved – is high. But what else would you expect for something as valuable as your soul is to God? It cost God the life and blood of His eternal Son! Now, at this point I want to make something abundantly clear: though salvation and forgiveness is not cheap, it also cannot be earned! “What will anyone give in exchange for their soul?” The answer is nothing! Jesus is the one who paid the price for your forgiveness! “Even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many,” (Mark 10:45).
The forgiveness of our sin is not cheap, as acknowledged by the price Jesus paid to accomplish it. The price was high because of the value of our souls to God. The result of God’s forgiveness is also supremely valuable – our complete submission and obedience to Jesus; a life lived for ourself to gain worldly treasure while giving lip service to Jesus is not what the Son of God died for, and it is not valuable enough to eclipse the value of our soul.
Here’s a great application for you concerning the value of the souls of men: When you see others as Jesus sees them, you will love others as Jesus loves them and serve others as Jesus serves them.
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends,” (John 15:13). Jesus’ mission was to die to save souls; ours is to die to self and live for Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit for the same purpose.
Part 1 on Forgiveness
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
You were working and your traveling partner forgot to call-in to the rodeo as promised and you missed a shot at a $5,000-added deal. You forgive him and move on.
He promises next week, he won’t forget. He does and you missed the next show too.
On the way to the next rodeo, you catch him in a lie about why he needed to borrow money from you that he still hasn’t paid back. He still owes you the money but you forgive the lie.
With your sister, it’s one thing after another and you wonder how you’re even related as you bail her out of jail. You’re getting tired of feeling taken advantage of. You may want to rethink who you use as a traveling partner and what the best ways are to help your sister, but you still forgive them.
But your anger is building and you’re thinking there must come a point where they’ve crossed a line and used up all their forgiveness cards.
Until you hear what Jesus tells Peter.
Matthew 18:21-22 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”22Jesus answered,“I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
Jesus isn’t saying 77 times is the specific, God-ordained number that you can finally stop forgiving someone. He’s using an exaggeration to say that there is no limit.
So why should we always offer forgiveness?
As followers of Christ, we trust what Jesus teaches to be true and good but it goes even deeper. Jesus died on the cross to take the punishment meant for our sins. Through faith that Jesus was the Son of God, died for our sins and rose again, and through understanding our sins will be punished by God without repentance and asking to be forgiven, we can be saved and forgiven for our sins.
God will not tolerate sin in his presence but once we have done repented and asked for forgiveness, we receive God’s unending grace, all our sins are forgiven and we’re welcomed into Heaven to be with Him forever when we die here on Earth.
Romans 6:14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.
Once we have been saved from punishment of our sins, we’re covered under grace and there is nothing more that we can do to be made right with God. If we mess up and sin again, we’re still forgiven. That doesn’t mean we can intentionally set out to sin and live how we want, it means when we mess up for the 78th time, we’re God is still going to forgive us.
Romans 6:1-2 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?
As Christians, we want to start living more like Christ so we want to follow his instructions and continue to forgive others. We don’t want to just live in sin anymore.
But when we fully understand what Jesus did for us on the cross and the punishment he took that was meant for us, how can we not offer forgiveness to others. We’re forgiven through Jesus no matter how many times we mess up. We have to offer the same forgiveness to others.
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
Even though it’s been gone from most schools for generations of students now, adults often still call for prayer to be returned to school, particularly at times of great tragedy in our communities or the country. There are many times we find ourselves feeling like circumstances would be different if we honored God more through prayer in schools.
Many kids are back in school with many more heading that way in the coming weeks. But with the unpredictable nature of Covid and our responses to it, many have no choice but to home school right now while a lot of parents are choosing that option temporarily and even permanently.
You can see where I’m going with this. Now is the chance to bring prayer back to ‘school’ wherever you’re teaching your kids. With a certain amount of control over your children’s time, having them at home more, you can start your day with prayer and spend time around their scheduled or required work, teaching your kids how to pray. You can even devote some time to Bible study.
Even if your kids are going back to a regular classroom and routine, let this be an encouragement to make time at home anyway to do this. Prayer may be formally gone from schools, but you can still send your kids to the classroom ready to respectfully pray for their classmates and teachers.
If you’re not comfortable with it yourself but believe it’s important, well, there’s never a bad time to learn to pray and learn how to study from your Bible. The Bible has no age requirements for when you start to learn from it.
Matthew 22:37 “And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’”
Throughout Scripture, we’re taught the significance of prayer.
But what a great verse in Matthew for us as we think about how important it really is to give God everything that’s in us. The education system is entrusted with our children’s minds but we can teach them privately how to love God with heart, soul and mind! That responsibility is ours given to us by God.
For the Christian cowboy and cowgirl, or however you identify yourself in our rodeo, ranch and bull riding industries, we’ve been struggling for months now with all the changes and politics going on around us. Here’s just one positive step we can focus on among all the negativity we’ve been staring down. While teaching our kids to love God with all their hearts, souls and minds, we can be teaching ourselves to do the same.
A child in kindergarten or a new Christian, we all have to start learning sometime and that can be done independently, as a whole family or both. If you’re new to it, that can feel intimidating, but for a lot of us, so was our first day at school. It gets easier the more time you give it.